Grime and the City

One of the things that I find most frustrating about bustling, dynamic Bangalore is my inability to enjoy walks in the city. Almost everyday, I come across an article in the newspaper about garbage piling up in the streets, rats that are multiplying because of the garbage, diseases caused by garbage and rats, the underpaid serfs who can’t possibly collect this much garbage, the city residents who refuse to sort the garbage for their serfs, and the municipal corporation which can’t seem to dispose of the garbage. This, along with traffic jams, unsafe “sidewalks,” and ambient pollution, has made the term “quality of life” into more of an oxymoron than a metric in Bangalore.

You can avoid all of this by walling yourself off in an expensive compound (I lived in one for a while and I have to admit, I quite liked it!) or you can understand the actual impact of the waste you produce by strolling through Bangalore, as I do on so many occasions. I used to walk home from work almost everyday, but due to the garbage and pollution, I am putting an end to these evening jaunts. This post is a chronicle of my last walk home from the office, and what it will mean for me to take autos everywhere starting tomorrow.

Ground Zero: Office

I wrap a dupatta around my face in a vain attempt to protect myself from the pollution. I call this my “magical pollution niqab.” I walk a few hundred meters.

This is what I typically look like before I set off

CMH (CheeMH) Road

After turning left, I delicately side-step a large trash heap while watching for oncoming autos/cows/buses/motorbikes/cars/bicycles. For all intents and purposes, the sidewalks aren’t a viable option, mostly due to the risk of falling through a crack into the noxious cesspool below.

Believe it or not, a sidewalk lives under this trash
Bangalore’s “sidewalks” ensure that you remain alert at all times!

The Art of Running For Your Life In India

After taking another left at the end of CMH road, I patiently wait for autos/cows/buses/motorcycles/cars/bicyclists to speed past. When it looks safe, I cross the street with my arm outstretched, palm facing the oncoming traffic, so as to say, “I’m not the one you want to run over!” In India, the hand is respected. You may cross the road, into a sea of oncoming traffic, but only if you position your hand in the prescribed manner. Otherwise, drivers won’t realize that they aren’t supposed to run you over. 

An onslaught of cars
Perpetually waiting to cross

After passing some sad-looking goats munching on trash…

I once again find myself patiently waiting for the right moment to sprint across the street. This can take up to 5 minutes, depending on the time of day. Sometimes, when a whole group of us are waiting to cross, we eventually walk into the oncoming traffic, like a critical mass of exasperated pedestrians (hand outstretched, in the prescribed manner!). This group includes sweepers, maids, manual day laborers, and yours truly. Walking in Bangalore is usually a function of either extreme poverty or the complete absence of common sense (I fall into the latter category).

Ulsoor Lake

Eventually, I reach what would be a lovely lake, were it not controlled by the military and mostly off-limits to civilians. I briefly stop, gaze at the water, re-adjust my pollution niqab, plod along for another kilometer, and hit Assayee Road.

This part of the journey has me walk the length of a crumbling street which runs alongside a remarkably (more) polluted creek (than usual). An upscale salon called Bodycraft is located here, and I often wonder how anyone can feel clean or rejuvenated within ten kilometers of this body of water.

A red tear drop signifying all the sad, dirty water stagnating across the street?

I finally reach the end of the street, and again wait patiently for the buscarcowbikeauto mass to dissipate. An older woman in a faded saree squats near the creek to defecate, in plain view of the busy intersection. I look away. Perhaps she sweeps floors for one of the well-off housewives who gets her mustache threaded at the Bodycraft down the street.

A Tryst with Destiny

Home, at last. I’m sweaty, and my eyes are burning. I peel the dupatta off of my face, enter my home, and collapse. I am sick and tired of (literally) inhaling other people’s negative externalities. That’s why tomorrow, I’ll take an auto home from work and produce some of my own. I’ll leverage my relative privilege to avoid the negative consequences of my own waste production while increasing the burden on those who have no choice but to walk, work, and live in filth. Tomorrow, all will be well, and at the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

A poster near my home, which reflects my mood as I approach my little house

As an undergraduate, Marina conducted fieldwork in Ukraine on Roma health and later wrote an Honors Thesis on the basis of that material. Her interest in public health and minority issues led her to intern with the US Department of Health and Human Services and several human rights groups. After completing a year of AmeriCorps service in the research and evaluation department of an NGO that helps incarcerated individuals, Marina traveled to Ukraine on a 10-month Fulbright research grant. During her time in Ukraine, she researched an indigenous group known as the Crimean Tatars and became active in youth group that promotes ethnic tolerance in Crimea. Marina speaks Russian and Turkish and is a strong proponent of the use of evaluation in international development programs.

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